Genre – Jazz – Piano

Hampton Hawes – At The Piano

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Hampton Hawes – At The Piano

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Contemporary Yellow Label LP has THE BEST SOUND and THE BEST MUSIC I have EVER heard on a Hampton Hawes album! When we dropped the needle on this one we could not believe our ears — it’s got The Big Sound, that’s for sure.

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Both sides rate A++ and may very well be As Good As It Gets. I certainly can’t imagine this music sounding any better.The piano has real weight, the bass is deep and tight, and the drums sound correct. The overall sound is rich, sweet, and tonally correct from top to bottom. It’s incredibly open and transparent — you can hear tons of ambience.

Drop the needle on Blue In Green on side two — the sound of the bowed bass is WONDERFUL.

This is my favorite Hampton Hawes record of all time. He died less than a year after these sessions. Looking at the cover, you can almost see in his face his acceptance of the end he knew was coming. He plays with deep emotion here. Ray Brown and Shelly Manne (the same rhythm section who back Joe Sample on my all-time favorite piano trio album)accompany him beautifully. The version of Killing Me Softly With His Song that opens the album is lovely.

One high point of this album is the interview that Lester Koenig conducts with Hampton Hawes on the back cover. Lester died soon thereafter himself.

Count Basie / Kansas City 3 – For The Second Time

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Count Basie / Kansas City 3 – For The Second Time

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Super Hot Stamper sound on both sides of this killer piano trio recording. It’s a joy to hear Basie perform as a frontman, stretching out on tunes that were no doubt dear to him. Veterans of hundreds of sessions, Ray Brown and Louis Bellson are just as interesting as Basie, high praise. Recorded by the legendary engineer Ed Greene (Stan Getz/Charlie Byrd – Jazz Samba) – that accounts for the exceptional sound.

See all of our Count Basie albums in stock

Naturally we pick up all the Pablo Basie titles we can get our hands on these days, having had very good luck with a great many of them. When we dropped the needle on a copy of this one a few years back we were amazed at the sound. My post-it, still on the record, reads “SUPERB DEMO DISC.” It certainly is.

This album was part of a series of smaller ensemble recordings under the heading of Kansas City that Pablo undertook with Basie later in his career. Basie had recorded a piano trio record with the same gents the year before “For the First Time” and must have enjoyed himself enough to give it another go.

The best copies are big and rich, and present you with a solid, weight, clear piano like few piano trio recordings you have ever heard.

Steer clear of the OJC on this title; it’s thin and opaque, the opposite of the sound you want.

Count Basie – Basie Plays Hefti

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Count Basie – Basie Plays Hefti

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This is the followup to the smash Basie album The Atomic Mr. Basie, an album we would love to make available if we could ever find a clean, good sounding copy to play.

Side one is rich, tubey and lively, right up there with some of the best pressings we played.

Side two tends to start out a bit hot but by the second track it’s fuller, smoother, and every bit as dynamic as anything on the album. The sound just keeps getting better from there, with the next track coming across especially big and clear.

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. Superb Super Hot Stamper sound on both sides – what a great Basie album this is!
. Basie Plays Hefti catches Basie’s band at the peak of their powers in 1958
. Rich, tubey, dynamic and clear, we know of no better vintage Basie album than this
. “The Count Basie Orchestra was in top form for this set of Neal Hefti                       arrangements.”|

The liner notes tell the story of this album well; go to the bottom of this listing to read them.

Not Your Typical Vintage Basie Album

Basie was recording like a madman back in the late ’50s and even all through the ’60s. In 1958, the year of this release, he put out seven (7!) albums on the Roulette label. We’ve played quite a number of them over the years and found relatively few with audiophile quality sound.

Including the original Roulette pressing of this very title. We’ve only heard a few, and had only one for our shootout, but it was awful enough to make us swear off buying more, especially considering the prices vintage jazz albums are going for these days. Hard and sour brass, no real top or bottom, it’s the sound of a poorly mastered Old Jazz Record, fine for the consoles of the day, not so good on today’s advanced stereo systems. Emus seems to be the only way to go.

And of course we absolutely loved the music. I had a chance to see the Basie Big Band perform not long ago at Disney Hall and a fairly large chunk of the music and arrangements they play these days are Neal’s, practically half I would venture to guess. Meaning simply that Hefti’s music has clearly stood the test of time. Play this album and you’re sure to see what I mean.

Hampton Hawes – Vol 2: The Trio

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Hampton Hawes – Vol 2: The Trio

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Triple Plus (+++) pressing from ’55/’56 mono tapes is EVERYTHING that’s good about mono. The size, the weight, the solidity, the clarity, the energy, the rhythmic drive – it’s all here and more. This killer pressing has the best sound and the best music we have ever heard on any Hampton Hawes album.

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There is nothing to fault in the sound of side one of this pressing , and side two was nearly as good – what a record!

Both sides are Tubey Magical, rich, open, spacious and tonally correct. We’ve never heard the record sound better, and that’s coming from someone who’s been playing the album since the ’80s.

These guys are playing live in the studio and you can really feel their presence on every track — assuming you have a copy that sounds like this one.

Based on what I’m hearing my feeling is that most of the natural, full-bodied, smooth, sweet sound of the album is on the master tape, and that all that was needed to transfer that vintage sound correctly onto vinyl disc was simply to thread up the tape on a high quality machine and hit play.

The fact that nobody seems to be able to make an especially good sounding record these days — certainly not as good sounding as this one — tells me that in fact I’m wrong to think that such an approach would work. Somebody should have been able to figure out how to do it by now. In our experience that is simply not the case today, and has not been for many years, if not decades.

George Horn

George Horn was doing brilliant work on Contemporary recordings all through the ’80s. This album is proof that his sound is the right sound for this music.

Bill Evans – Quintessence

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Bill Evans – Quintessence

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

STUNNING SOUND THROUGHOUT — this is one of the best sounding Bill Evans records we’ve ever heard! Side one here earned our top A+++ grade while side two earned a very strong A++. Both sides are super rich and full-bodied with lots of energy and considerable dynamic power. There aren’t too many ’70s jazz records that sound like this!

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The music is wonderful as well, and Evans is joined by an all-star lineup of Harold Land, Kenny Burrell, Ray Brown and the great Philly Joe Jones.

We were stunned at how good this album can sound on the right pressing (one like this, natch). It has that natural, realistic feel that you get on the best Contemporary recordings. I don’t know what you could do to make this music sound any better than it does here. The sax is breathy and full, the piano is big and solid, the acoustic bass is well-defined with real weight and the guitar tone is tubey and warm. Hard to imagine that there are too many audiophiles with a substantial number of jazz records in their collection that sound as good as this (our own Hot Stampers excluded of course)!

Duke Ellington – The Ellington Suites

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Duke Ellington – The Ellington Suites

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

An A++ side one, an A+++ side two and quiet vinyl throughout make this copy an Ellington LP that is sure to impress! Side one of this album features a piece called “The Queen’s Suite” that was recorded in 1959. On this A++ side, you get stunningly Tubey Magical late ’50s jazz sound — something that’s almost impossible to come by on any recording made after that.

1976 Grammy Award Winner for Best Jazz Performance by a Big Band.

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I know of no other Pablo record with sound so rich, full and warm. This one destroyed a big stack of copies we’d been collecting for years in order to do this shootout. Unless you have a good sized batch, ten or more, you will have a tough time finding one with sound anywhere near this amazing.

The Queen’s Suite, which takes up side one, was recorded in 1959 and sounds amazing. As you can imagine, this has one of the best Ellington bands ever assembled, with players like Clark Terry, Paul Gonzalves, Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges… the list of jazz giants goes on and on. If you enjoy the classic albums by Mingus on Atlantic, you’re gonna love this work. The sound is excellent as well, earning an A++ grade — open, spacious and transparent with tight bass and an extended top end.

Side two has material performed by Ellington in the early ’70s, which though not as good musically, is still very enjoyable. On this copy, it sounds amazing, earning an A+++ grade with incredible transparency and immediacy. The overall sound is airy and open with lots of breathy texture to the horns and woodwinds. (more…)

Oscar Peterson + Harry Edison + Eddie Cleanhead Vinson

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Oscar Peterson + Harry Edison + Eddie Cleanhead Vinson

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This is a long out of print Pablo LP with AMAZING sound and music. It’s one of those superb Allan Sides engineered recordings at Ocean Way, like Basie 88 Street. Demo disc quality sound is the result! With players like these, the music is every bit as good as any jazz record I know of. In other words, I really like this album.

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The Three – The Three (33 RPM)

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The Three – The Three

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This White Hot stamper side two was either the equal of, or BEAT, three out of the four 45 RPM Japanese pressings in our shootout, and all the Direct Disc pressings as well. There was a time when this Demonstration Quality sound would have easily have won our shootout. We know now that it’s possible for the sound to get even better, on 45, but at the cost of two out of the six tracks.

Which simply means that if you want to hear all six songs that recorded that day by The Three, this is the best way to go. The album as a whole is so good that I would not want to live with less than the complete album, that’s for sure.

Unless you have the 45 made from these same tapes, we guarantee you have never heard a better sounding jazz record than this side two or you get your money back. And it’s not the Direct Disc. It’s better than the direct to disc. It’s live to TAPE.

The Inner City LPs are exceptionally difficult to find in quiet condition on flat vinyl. I can’t tell you how many I run across that are noisy and warped. I used to buy them off eBay but I got so many bad ones I finally just gave up and threw in the towel.

This is that rare copy that actually has decent surfaces, is not noticeably warped, and, most importantly, sounds amazing. (more…)

Oscar Peterson – If You Could See Me Now

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Oscar Peterson – If You Could See Me Now

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This is a SUPERB set from Oscar Peterson’s sometimes underwhelming Pablo period. This one is from 1983 and includes the estimable Joe Pass on guitar. Side one has the kind of sound one associates with late-’70s jazz, jazz that often seems to be recorded in dead studios. Side two sounds much better somehow — more clear, present and lively. The liner notes tell us it’s the same studio, even the same day, but there is simply no mistaking the better sound quality. Such are the vagaries of the vinyl record. if you’re in the market for a top quality Oscar Peterson piano trio recording (with bonus guitar), this side two should be just the ticket.

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Great in Stereo, Bad in Mono. What Else Is New?

More of The In Crowd

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Skip the Mono

This album is more common in mono than stereo, but we found the sound of the mono pressing we played unsatisfying. Where is the wall to wall space of the live club? It has been drastically shrunken into the area between the speakers. Much of the ambience disappeared with it, destroying the illusion the album was trying to create, that you are there.

In mono, you really aren’t.

Here are some other records that we don’t think sound very good in MONO.

Here are some we think can sound amazing in MONO.

OUR HOT STEREO COPY

  • An excellent copy with both sides rating a Double Plus (A++) or better
  • It’s taken us years, but Lewis’s breakout bestselling album The In Crowd finally makes its debut at Better Records
  • If you want to know what jazz at an intimate nightclub would have sounded like in 1965, play this record – this is that sound
  • AMG raves “…this is the moment where Lewis shined the brightest, the “in crowd” at the club was verbally into it, and the time for this music was right.”

 

See all of our Ramsey Lewis Trio albums in stock

This original Argo Blue Label Stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in a real jazz club, this is the record for you. It’s what Vintage Records are known for — this sound. (more…)